The Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 is the Microsoft Surface Mini I always wanted

The Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 is the Microsoft Surface Mini I always wanted

For a couple of weeks now, I’ve been using the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3. It’s a phenomenal device, and frankly, it’s pretty much everything I want in a phone. We’ve already got a review for the phone itself, but today I want to talk about a different angle — the Microsoft experience.

For a few years now, Microsoft and Samsung have been building a partnership. It all started with Your Phone integration, and with the Galaxy Z Fold 3, the Redmond firm is optimizing its apps for Samsung’s giant foldable phone.

While the two companies are working together, there’s something to be said for consumers in Microsoft’s ecosystem that want something like this. You might be an ex-Windows Phone user, or you might just be a Microsoft 365 user that wants your services to be the primary ones on a device. Frankly, Samsung’s phones are the only ones offering this experience (there’s also the Surface Duo, but we’ll get to that).

OneNote on the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 is perfect

Let me tell you a little story. Back in the old days — 2014 to be specific — Microsoft was set to hold its third big product launch in just a year and a half. In April of that year, it was going to announce both the Surface Pro 3, and the real star of the show, the Surface Mini.

Obviously, that’s not how things went. Within a week of the event, CEO Satya Nadella scrapped the Surface Mini, as the writing was on the wall at that point for Windows RT. The Surface Pro 3, originally intended to take a back seat to its smaller sibling, ended up as the star, and it’s the template for the Surface tablets we’re seeing today.

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 with Hello XDA written in OneNote

I always wished the Surface Mini would ship in one form or another, because I’m big on taking handwritten notes. If you ever see me at an event, you’ll see me hunched over some convertible laptop with a pen, writing notes in OneNote. I’d love to get the perfect mini tablet for it, using one hand for holding it and one hand for writing.

My wait is over. The Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 is perfect. It adds up to being a tablet that fits into my pocket, making it even better than a Surface Mini. Indeed, the main reason I’ve fallen in love with the device it that it’s essentially eliminated my need to carry a third device (or a fourth, since I often carry both a tablet and a Kindle).

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 with S Pen

To be clear, there’s no additional functionality in OneNote that’s found on the Galaxy Z Fold 3. It’s more about the form factor and the pen support. I used to be a big fan of the Galaxy Note series back in the Note 5 era, but when Samsung started chopping off the side bezels, I found the phone harder to hold while using the pen for a full page of notes.

If you like to take handwritten notes on the fly, the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 3 is for you.

Xbox Cloud Gaming: The Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 is a game-changer

I’m not too big on game streaming. It’s always kind of boggled my mind why someone would want to play the same game on their 6.5 inch phone as they would on their 65 inch TV. Or perhaps I’m just getting old and can’t read small text like I used to. Either way, it works better on a larger screen, no matter how you slice it.

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 with Xbox Cloud Gaming and controller

That’s the beauty of the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3. It’s a small, albeit thick, phone when that’s more convenient, and then you can open it up into something bigger. As I described above, that’s great for productivity, but it’s also great for playing games. And with Xbox Cloud Gaming, you can stream AAA games that would otherwise require an Xbox or PC.

There’s nothing big here that’s part of the Microsoft / Samsung partnership, unless you want to include the fact that the Xbox Game Pass app is available in the Galaxy Store. It’s just another example of a Microsoft service that’s better than on anything else, thanks to the larger, 7.9 inch internal display.

Xbox Cloud Gaming requires Xbox Game Pass Ultimate, which includes Xbox Game Pass, Xbox Game Pass for PC, Xbox Live Gold, and of course, game streaming of the titles that are available via the subscription. It’s $14.99 a month, but Microsoft often runs promotions, such as being able to get your first month for $1.

Your Phone: The Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 brings Android apps to your PC

When Microsoft and Samsung first announced their partnership, it was about Your Phone integration. While other phones would have to download a companion app, Samsung phones got a ‘Link to Windows’ option that was built into it. All you had to do was tap on that, open ‘Your Phone’ on your PC, and follow the instructions to get started.

Throughout the years, the two companies have worked together on more exclusive features, some of which aren’t even available on Microsoft’s own Surface Duo. The big exclusive, in my opinion, is Android apps running on your PC.

Your Phone with Android apps running on PC

Your Phone will collect your apps from the Galaxy Z Fold 3 into its own app drawer, and you can launch them on your PC in their own window. It’s not something I use every day, but it’s nice to have. Keep in mind however, that if you open something like a music app, it’s going to use the audio on your phone instead of your PC.

It can also run multiple apps at once, which is super useful. The bad news is that the phone does have to be unlocked. If you launch an app from ‘Your Phone’ while the device is locked, it will prompt you to unlock your Galaxy Z Fold 3, which you can actually do from your PC, using a mouse and keyboard to tap your PIN.

Office, Teams, and Outlook are all optimized for the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3

Microsoft sent out some updates for its Office, Teams, and Outlook apps to optimize them for the big, foldable screen. For example, if you’re on a Teams meeting, you can now see a presentation on one half of the screen and see the meeting attendees on the other.

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 showing Office, OneNote, and Teams on the same screen

You can also use Office with Multi-Active Windows, allowing you to use more than one app at once. That means you can scroll through a document on one side, and take handwritten notes in OneNote on the other. It’s pretty great. The Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 is the ultimate device for productivity, and Microsoft’s services make that even better.

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 multitasking screen showing Office and OneNote

Your multi-window apps are automatically saved too. You can find them on the multitasking screen and in the shortcuts that slide out from the side.

The productivity part of this device is pretty amazing. If you want, you can pair a Bluetooth keyboard and set up the Z Fold 3 as a small screen. You can even use a small keyboard that fits in your pocket, like the foldable one Microsoft used to make, and suddenly you have that experience on the go. You can also plug the Galaxy Z Fold 3 into a screen to use DeX, which offers a full desktop experience.

You can use DeX with Windows too by plugging the device into a PC and using the app, but there’s really no need to. Everything can be done with ‘Your Phone’ now.

It’s not a Surface Duo

If you’re looking for the ultimate Microsoft experience on a phone, you might be drawn toward the Surface Duo, and I want to make something clear. The Surface Duo is a bad product. I know I’m not supposed to say that as a Microsoft user, but it’s true. The Surface Duo 2 is coming soon, and I think it will solve some of the issues, but while we’re talking about the original version, that’s what it is.

Let’s talk a little bit about the differences between the Microsoft Surface Duo and the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 as products. Starting with the obvious, the Surface Duo has two screens while the Galaxy Z Fold 3 has one big screen on the inside. That’s a key difference in the form factor, and I don’t think that’s what gives Samsung the edge. It’s more of a matter of preference.

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 showing Kindle app

The Surface Duo doesn’t have an external screen, so any time you want to interact with it, you have to open it. That’s going to be a pain point. Samsung puts a display on the outside, which is a bit narrow but great for one-handed use.

Let’s talk about the camera though, because the Surface Duo is awful. It’s got an 11MP camera above the display, and nothing that would qualify as a main sensor on any other premium phone. Even pictures taken in daylight with the Surface Duo have noticeable differences between that and a mid-range phone.

On the other hand, the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 has a triple-lens camera, with an f/1.8 aperture on the main lens. It’s got a 2x zoom lens and an optical zoom lens as well. It’s a solid camera; it’s no S21 Ultra, but it’s fitting of a premium device. I know the usual defense is that the Duo is more focused on productivity, but seriously, if this is your one device, it has to do all of the things that a flagship phone should be able to do, especially at $1,399.

I do feel like the overall experience is better with the larger screen; that’s my preference. When using the full-screen experience on the Surface Duo, it’s weird to have that bezel right down the middle. I like reading books better on the Fold too. Amazon made a special Kindle app for the Surface Duo that works on the two screens, but I’m not trying to simulate a book when I read. Give me the full-screen experience of the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 any day.

Conclusion

When I started using the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3, it had an instant wow factor. Now “wow” as in, this folding screen is so cool. I’ve used foldable devices before; that’s not new. What blew me away was that I could instantly tell that this would improve my user experience. I don’t ever want to use a phone that doesn’t fold again.

I’m also a Microsoft guy. I use OneDrive, OneNote, To Do, Skype, and so on. It’s been a while since guys like us have had a phone, and it really feels like the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 is that phone. In fact, Samsung phones even natively upload your photos to OneDrive now, as Samsung Cloud is going away.

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 showing split-screen OneNote and Office

Samsung and Microsoft have been partnering for a few years now, and you can get a lot of this integration on other Samsung phones. You’ll still get all of the ‘Link to Windows’ stuff with the Android apps, and if you’ve got a Galaxy Note series device, you can easily take handwritten notes in OneNote.

The big difference is the larger screen. It just makes more things make sense. That includes split-screen apps, a larger screen for game streaming, more room to write in OneNote, and more. Microsoft is a company that’s renowned for its productivity prowess. Bringing those services to this hardware seems to match in perfect harmony.

    Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3
    The Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 is the company's third-gen foldable device, and it works great with Microsoft services.

About author

Rich Woods
Rich Woods

Managing Editor for XDA Computing. I've been covering tech from smartphones to PCs since 2013. If you see me at a trade show, come say hi and let me ask you weird questions about why you use the tech you use.